By Dr. Vanessa Lapointe
The school year is upon us and for many families, it will look very different from years prior. From hybrid models, to learning-at-home, to returning to a bricks-at-mortar school, children in our province are going to be resuming their education in a variety of formats. Children will also be walking through the doors of their preschools, day cares, and after-school cares with a whole new set of rules and expectations. Many families have messaged me to ask how they can start this year off strong, after months of uncertainty and indecision. I’d like to share three ways that we can head into September as confident and calm guides for our families.
Take On Change With Compassion
For many families, this has been a six-month-long Spring Break that didn’t ever seem to end! After this time at home with siblings, family members and perhaps some close friends in your “bubble”, the transition to the busy-ness and schedules of the classroom can be a lot for a child. This may mean that your child has some worries leading up to the first day – or weeks! – of school. It can mean some BIG feelings at the end of the day, when all of those emotions that have been tucked away throughout the day can FINALLY find a place to land. That’s right – right squarely on you.
This is a time where your child will have to adjust. To more noise. To more sitting in seats. To people that he hasn’t been around in almost six months. For children who are learning from home, your child may have to adjust to sitting in front of a computer most mornings. To inevitably missing some aspects of the classroom. To having a parent or family member step in as his teacher.
Just like an adult might come home and say, “Whew! That was a tough day!” your child will experience those similar feelings, but without the necessary tools to express it. Allow those tantrums. Make space for a snarling teenager or tears over the dinner table. Be patient. Listen. And always approach with connection first.
Handling Your Own Worries
This has been the Summer of Uncertainty (yes, it’s worth a capitalization). I cannot count how many times I, and my friends and colleagues, have talked about what school is going to look like. And oftentimes, these conversations fall into a fear-based narrative. We are so worried about making the wrong choice that in the end, our conversations often result in two people with increased heart rates and even less of an idea of what they truly wanted. My partner, David Loyst, wrote a wonderful piece about finding your own way without letting the noise of our peers and the media drown out our inner voice. You can read that here.
I also want to encourage parents to be gentle with themselves during these first few months of school and daycare. Avoid doom scrolling (getting sucked up in the media streams of constant fear and negative news), get plenty of sleep, connect with those in your village, and find time for quiet reflection. This is a time to show yourself the same love you show your children.
Connect With Your Village
We have been living in a time that is unlike any other, and as a result, many of us have been living very different lives. Our bubbles have gotten tight, extra-curriculars have been cancelled/altered, and a large percentage of us have shifted to working from home. In our province, we are facing the Fall – where we move indoors, and cold and flu season often pays a visit. During this time, it is crucial that we don’t isolate ourselves under a cloud of fear. We must reach out to fellow parents, family members, neighbours – while still remaining safe and using our common sense.
Humans are a social species and are wired for connection with others. By reaching out to your village, not only will you be filling your own emotional cup, but you will also be modelling to your children how to continue to interact and support your village, while still adhering to best health and safety practices. Not everyone who needs support will reach out, so pay attention. Fire a text to that friend who has been quiet lately. Message your child’s teacher to send a few words of gratitude. Check in with that elderly neighbour to see how she’s been doing. Set up a Zoom call with friends and family members who are out of town. Don’t let the season drive us into isolation. Use it as a reason to reach out to our community!
You’ve Got This
I feel as though I’ve said this a hundred times in the past few months, but “these are weird times”. And they are! It’s okay to admit it! I’m not asking you to Pollyanna your way through the school year while your child skeptically watches you. Instead, I’m asking you to make space for a gamut of emotions (ALL of them), to be gentle with your children and yourself, and to keep connecting. Don’t stop connecting! This year will be different, but it will also bring its own gifts. Relationships can grow stronger. Creativity can bloom. You may slip into a new self-care practice that changes your lens entirely! You’ve got this. This year might be different, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be amazing.
See more articles from Dr. Vanessa Lapointe in our Parenting Corner.